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New Words

May is mental health awareness month. This is an observance that has taken place since 1949 and I can only imagine what earlier struggles took place in getting people to understand what mental health issues were.

It was in 1949 that the World Health Organization published the International Statistical Classification of Disease and for the first time included a section for mental diseases. This was a huge step from the first publication in 1917 from an organization now known as the American Psychiatric Association which developed a new guide entitled Statistical Manual for the Use of Institutions for the Insane. And it included 22 diagnoses.

The new manual, which finds its roots in the 1949 WHO publication, comes out this month and carries over 300 diagnoses and is full of controversy in some of the suggested inclusions and exclusions.

But the basics are that today more people die from suicides in the U.S. than from traffic accidents or homicides. For every soldier we lose in combat, 25 commit suicide. And the age of diagnosis for mental disorders is getting younger and younger.

And the stigma still remains. People are ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their illness with friends and family. They fear for their jobs and future employment if their record carries a reference to “mental illness.” Health insurance costs climb if “mental illness” is listed. Even caregivers fear the consequences of bringing “mental illness” out into the open.

Maybe one of the actions we can take this month is a simple rewording. Instead of using the words “mental illness” we change that to say “brain illness”. After all, our mental capacities – our ability to add, subtract, create, read, think and so on – are not diseased. Something in our brains have gone awry and need treatment just as something in the heart or other parts of the body go awry. Let’s use this month to call it as it is. It’s brain illness that affects millions of Americans.

And we need everyone to acknowledge that if we don’t work on finding out what causes the brain to go awry, if we continue to treat the symptoms and not the illness, we won’t make any headway in curing brain illness.

– Bernadette

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2 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on In My Dark.

  2. Thanks! Thanks for getting the word out about brain illness.

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